Donald Trump Transitions to the White House: What do Federal Employees Think?

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Much criticism was levied at the Trump campaign and Donald Trump himself during the presidential campaign season. Trump is racist. Trump is a bigot. Trump is sexist and misogynistic. Trump has little to no actual policy. What policy he does seem to have rapidly changes and would be disastrous according to experts. He may also hurt the national security of the United States. Or so went the narrative. Additionally, on top of all that his campaign was underfunded and mismanagedDonald Trump cannot possibly win the election.

Donald Trump won the election. But Donald Trump couldn’t possibly know how to be president. He is ignorant about what the president actually does. As is his transition team. A transition team he has had difficulty filling. A transition team already fighting over appointments He has already appeared to have softened his stances on a number of issues because he has realized his campaign positions are politically untenable. He is still fighting with the media, blaming them for their coverage of attacks of minorities perpetrated by Trump supporters. His temperament, predispositions and tendency to free-wheel are antithetical to the Office of the President. He wants his children to have top secret security clearance. He wants to keep a hand in running his businesses. He doesn’t even want to keep a full-time schedule in Washington, D.C. Donald Trump will be a terrible president.

But Donald Trump will be president. Despite some efforts to get Electoral College voters to alter their ballots. Donald Trump will be president of the United States of America. He needs to be a successful president. A successful Donald Trump presidency is good for America. And considering his lack of political experience and the apparent lack of experience among his transition team, and the difficulty his administration has had filling positions, he’s going to need help to be successful. He’s going to need those already in government employ to make him successful. He needs the government bureaucracy to make him successful.

These individuals are already in government employ. The intelligence and subject matter experts. The Foreign Service Officers who work in U.S. embassies and consulates all over the world. The people who research, write, plan and implement federal legislation and programs. A bureaucracy which has grown in both size and influence. The thousands of career bureaucrats who truly run the dozens of government agencies and programs which comprise the U.S. federal government. The federal government of the United States cannot function without these individuals, and they cannot be replaced. Nor should they be if the Trump administration is to be successful.

These bureaucrats may have political beliefs and attitudes, but they are non-partisan. They work for the U.S. federal government, for their agency, not for a particular president or political party. They are not a part of Donald Trump’s transition to the White House. They will simply be in charge of following the Donald Trump White House. They will research, write, plan and implement the policies which emanate from the White House and Congress. However, given both the pre-election and post-election narratives as well as the fact that many of these bureaucrats do have their own political opinions, they may not necessarily be pleased with this turn of events and the fact they are subject to policy decisions and a president with which they fundamentally disagree.

The Concourse has solicited these government employees to share their thoughts on Donald Trump’s victory and the prospect of working under a Trump administration. They previously published an email from a State Department employee who had a rather negative view. They now have further emails from a wider range of employees. A few selected emails are below.

From a federal government employee:

“I’m a lifelong Republican. I am (was) a Republican because I believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the rule of law. I thought other Republicans believed in those things too. In retrospect, that was probably naïve. Apparently bigotry and strongman posturing are more appealing to the GOP base. The party nominated an authoritarian, buffoonish carnival barker.

“Now he’s the President-Elect. I work for a big Department that will be tasked with implementing a lot of his more unsavory ideas. Normally the Hatch Act dissuades people from openly discussing their political opinions. But everyone I know at work is scared and confused.

“Election night hit me hard. I usually stay up most of the night eagerly watching the returns come in. Instead, by 10pm, I was lying in bed with the lights off, staring vacantly at the ceiling until the sun came up. The morning commute on the Metro was eerily silent. I’ve never seen so many people openly weeping in public. Normally I’m a news junky, but I’m still unable to bring myself to check Twitter or my normal news outlets. That’s a sign of depression, right? The result of this election has taken the joy out of things I love.

“I have my dream job now. I got into government service because I want to make a positive difference in the world. I don’t want to help this man. I’m at a loss.”

From a scientist with the Bureau of Land Management:

“When I first read who won on the morning of the 9th, my initial reaction was an outsized one, much like everyone else who wanted Hillary to win. I thought for sure that the BLM would be abolished, my career crushed, all public lands would fall into the grip of private ownership, and that the denial of climate change would come to dominate environmental and economic policy for the next four years. Eventually, after a few days, that fear waned and I began to think more critically about what a Trump victory means for the environment. Trump has advocated a policy of eliminating essentially all environmental regulations in order to promote economic growth and energy independence, which has many people gravely worried. As someone who directly administers energy production on public lands, my thoughts over the last couple days have gone from extreme fear to analyzing how Trump could implement such a policy, and how effective it would be in accomplishing what he wants. As many people know, the market for oil is deeply depressed right now, and it’s not due to any domestic factors, or excessive regulations. Republicans like to preach about the free market—well, the free market is what is depressing the price of oil and making it difficult to make domestic production possible… The same line of reason can be applied to coal, which Trump has promised to make viable again. But how? Natural gas is pushing coal into irrelevance. Trump thinks removing the federal coal leasing moratorium and other restrictions will bring coal back, but leases and mines already exist in droves, and yet coal companies are going bankrupt as fast as all of Trump’s personal businesses…

“Renewable energy has a real grip in the domestic energy market, and it will only increase due to increasing domestic demand. There are enough people demanding a break from fossil fuels, and none of those people are suddenly going to change their minds and want to go back to coal and oil now that Trump is in power. I oversee a couple geothermal power plants, and the BLM is very interested in expanding geothermal energy production on public lands, as well as solar and wind power. I still believe this is future, not only from a purely idealistic standpoint, but also from an economic standpoint. This is bolstered by the USA’s participation in the Paris Accords, which Trump would be quite foolish to try to back out of, if he even could.

“It is easy to forget that there are layers and layers and layers of regulations and laws in place that would make stripping down most regulations extremely difficult. We had a Bush administration for 8 years doing their damndest to undermine the environment, and we still turned out okay. It will be quite easy for organizations to file lawsuits against Trump policy decisions in federal appeals courts (which will actually be a better place to hear cases than whatever circus of a Supreme Court he comes up with), especially because I believe that many of his policy decisions will be heavy-handed attempts that will have no legal foundation.

“The mandates for the BLM and BOEM in particular (and the Forest Service to a lesser degree) require the production of energy on public lands, and we generate a ton of money for the Treasury. So there simply is no way that won’t continue to happen. And the way the coal and oil markets are going, there is revenue to be made in renewables. I get the feeling that once Trump is informed of the economics of it all, since he loves money so much, it might have an effect of temperance.”

From an employee in the Department of Labor:

“As you might imagine, my office voted heavily Clinton and expected her to win. On the day after, for the first time any of us could remember, the supervisors bought everyone breakfast and sat down to talk with us. I’ve been there almost 10 years and this will be my third President (started in Dubya’s last term) and we’ve never done anything like this before.

“My boss’s message can be summed up as ‘Don’t worry. He probably doesn’t even know we exist.’

“It was a small gesture, to be sure. But it went a long way towards reassuring us that it will be business as usual. For most of us, all we want is: 1) Trump to realize that it’s a huge task to change anything; and 2) he doesn’t have the interest/attention span/knowledge to care and just leaves us alone. That’s how bad some of us fear he could be – we’ll take our understaffed, overworked status quo over the possible nightmare future.”

From an employee of the Social Security Administration:

“I will tell you that SSA employees like me are largely fortunate in that that most presidential elections have limited impact on work life.

“For one, the Hatch Act requires that we maintain a politically neutral work environment and it is a great law. Nothing makes a work day less bearable than having to listen to an insufferable coworker ramble on and on politically about _________, amiright? (God bless Orrin Hatch for once.). Aside from personal disappointment and/or elation subsequent each election cycle, my job at SSA is to administer an essential social program. Some staff lose sight of that fact from time to time, but on the whole our folks are even-keeled. As administrators, we frankly get paid to put our personal feelings to the side during work hours.

“Second, the larger issue to me is that I have worked through several administrations and, while the various Presidents have differed greatly on how they believed Social Security policy and rules should change, my agency is a budgetary and policy-addled juggernaut. No one is turning this puppy around on a dime, for better or worse. Social Security has plenty of issues, but it should also remain largely on course through the next administration.

“Business as usual.”

The overwhelmingly sentiment from this correspondence seems to fit within two categories. One, dismay at Trump’s victory and what his policies may mean for these employees and the United States in general. Two, the feeling that despite Trump’s calls for widespread change, some of these employees don’t see much change coming. Simply because it can’t and/or because change in their jobs would be far down Donald Trump’s list. But they still appear to exhibit some general concern ab out what Donald Trump means for the federal government. Then, there is what, to this time, appears to be an outlier:

From an employee of Customs and Border Protection:

“I work for CBP. you know what we’ve had to deal with the last 8 years? How about being told not to do your job, to ignore the law and long standing best practices? We get to process and release bad actors on a daily basis, from several countries who don’t like us, because we have a president who feels that borders aren’t necessary. We also haven’t received a raise in 5 years, while illegal aliens, people who shouldn’t be here, receive free home, health care, food, and welfare. We have had our jobs held hostage for political reasons, worked without pay, and had our budgets slashed, all while being publically dragged through the mud and portrayed as the enemy. The Obama administration does not care about Homeland Security, they care about votes. They wanted to turn the USA into a super nanny state, with as many people on the govt dole, to stay in power permanently. As a straight, white, Catholic male, I check every single box of deplorability. Thank God this change happened. I’m more than elated Trump got elected, by white, brown, and black men and women. Hopefully we can return to a civil society where rule of law and self sufficiency are the order of the day.”

What is the lesson to be taken from these statements of federal employees who now face the prospect of working under Donald Trump? They’re basically just like the American public.


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